An act for "enrolling and calling out the
Narional Forces" was signed into law on
March 3, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln. This, the first effective draft by the federal government, called for all men between
the ages of 18 and 45 to be enrolled into local
militia units and be available to be called into
national service. The draft law exempted men
in some occupations, such as telegraph operators, railroad engineers, judges, and certain
other government employees. Men with mental disabilities or with certain types of dependents were also exempted. Physical disabilities that would exempt a man included imperfect vision in the right eye, lack of front teeth
and molars, and loss of more than one finger
of the right hand or more than two fingers of
the left hand.
The actual drafting of the men was the responsibility of the states, which usually
used a lottery system. When the government
issued a call for more troops, each state
would be given a quota to fill based on its
population. The number of volunteers would
be subtracted from the quota and the difference would be drafted. If a draftee volunteered before the final muster, he avoided the
stigma of compulsory service and was eligible to collect a bounty of $100 from the federal
government plus additional bounties from the
state and local communities. In total, the
bounties could exceed $500, which was about
the average yearly wage in those days. States
considered it a matter of pride to fill their
quotas without having to resort to the draft.
A draftee could gain an exemption by paying
a fee of $300 or by hiring a substitute. The
obvious inequity of this provision prompted
the cry of "rich man's war, but poor man's
fight." A New Yorker rhymed, "Since poverty has been our crime, we bow to the decree.
We are the poor who have no wealth to purchase liberty." The bounty system also made
possible the enrichment of a large number of
unscrupulous persons called "bounty
jumpers." These men would enlist to collect
their bounty, then desert and enlist somewhere else and collect another bounty.
Fascinating Fact: The record for bounty jumping
was held by John O'Gonnor. He admitted enlisting
and jumping 32 times before being caught; he
received a four-year prison term.
Recruiting in the New York City Hall Park; courtesy Culver
Written by Stephen T, Foster Printed in USA
8 MCMXCIll Atlas Editions, USA D3 602 02-11